Hakuna Matata

Disney is making a movie of C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe. “Sequels may follow. But films are only the spearhead of a corporate initiative that is likely to include a theme park presence, toys, clothing, video games and whatever other tchotchkes the infinitely resourceful Disney team can devise.”

But this time, the pros at Disney are wrestling with a special challenge: how to sell a screen hero who was conceived as a forthright symbol of Jesus Christ, a redeemer who is tortured and killed in place of a young human sinner and who returns in a glorious resurrection that transforms the snowy landscape of Narnia into a verdant paradise.

Directing the movie is Andrew Adamson, who previously helmed Shrek and Shrek 2. The New York Times has more.

But what the newspaper doesn’t share with you is the author’s own take on the matter. Lewis is of course long passed, but in the Times book section in 1956, he has an essay, “Sometimes Fairy Stories May Say Best What’s to be Said.” Keeping a modest tone, he explains the complementary urges to write an imaginative story to children and to write out his heart — a religious one — to the world.

A PDF of the article is available for $2.95 on the Times site, but it also turns up in a Lewis compendium, On Stories: And Other Essays on Literature. With Amazon’s full text search engine, the whole essay is readable in two chunks, pages one through three and page four.

A middle excerpt is vivid on his creative process.

Some people seem to think that I began by asking myself how I could say something about Christianity to children; then fixed on the fairytale as an instrument; then collected information about child-psychology and decided what age-group I’d write for; then drew up a list of basic Christian truths and hammered out “allegories” to embody them. This is all pure moonshine. I couldn’t write in that way at all. Everything began with images; a faun carrying an umbrella, a queen on a sledge, a magnificent lion. At first there wasn’t even anything Christian about them; that element pushed itself in of its own accord. It was part of the bubbling.

Then came the Form. As these images sorted themselves into events (i.e., became a story) they seemed to demand no love interest and no close psychology. But the Form which excludes these things is the fairy tale. And the moment I thought of that I fell in love with the Form itself: its brevity, its severe restraints on description, its flexible traditionalism, its inflexible hostility to all analysis, digression, reflections and “gas”. I was now enamoured of it. Its very limitations of vocabulary became an attraction; as the hardness of the stone pleases the sculptor or the difficulty of the sonnet delights the sonneteer.

On that side (as Author) I wrote fairy tales because the Fairy Tale seemed the best ideal Form for the stuff I had to say.

Then of course the Man in me began to have its turn. I thought I could see how stories of this kind could steal past a certain inhibition which had paralysed much of my own religion in childhood. Why did one find it so hard to feel as one was told one ought to feel about God or about the sufferings of Christ? I thought the chief reason was that one was told one ought to. An obligation to feel can freeze feelings. And reverence itself did harm. The whole subject was associated with lowered voices; almost as if it were something medical. But supposing that by casting all these things into an imaginary world, stripping them of their stained-glass and Sunday school associations, one could make them for the first time appear in their real potency? Could one not thus steal past those watchful dragons? I thought one could.

That was the Man’s motive. But of course he could have done nothing if the Author had not been on the boil first.

Something to think about with your Happy Meal.

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